Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered
. . . a collection of essays by British economist E. F. Schumacher. The phrase “Small Is Beautiful” came from a phrase by his teacher Leopold Kohr. It is often used to champion small, appropriate technologies that are believed to empower people more, in contrast with phrases such as “bigger is better”.
First published in 1973, Small Is Beautiful brought Schumacher’s critiques of Western economics to a wider audience during the 1973 energy crisis and emergence of globalization. The Times Literary Supplement ranked Small Is Beautiful among the 100 most influential books published since World War II. A further edition with commentaries was published in 1999.
The book is divided into four parts: “The Modern World”, “Resources”, “The Third World”, and “Organization and Ownership”.
In the first chapter, “The Problem of Production”, Schumacher argues that the modern economy is unsustainable. Natural resources (like fossil fuels), are treated as expendable income, when in fact they should be treated as capital, since they are not renewable, and thus subject to eventual depletion. He further argues that nature’s resistance to pollution is limited as well. He concludes that government effort must be concentrated on sustainable development, because relatively minor improvements, for example, technology transfer to Third World countries, will not solve the underlying problem of an unsustainable economy.
Schumacher’s philosophy is one of “enoughness”, appreciating both human needs, limitations and appropriate use of technology. It grew out of his study of village-based economics, which he later termed Buddhist economics, which is the subject of the book’s fourth chapter.
He faults conventional economic thinking for failing to consider the most appropriate scale for an activity, blasts notions that “growth is good”, and that “bigger is better”, and questions the appropriateness of using mass production in developing countries, promoting instead “production by the masses”. Schumacher was one of the first economists to question the appropriateness of using gross national product to measure human well-being, emphasizing that “the aim ought to be to obtain the maximum amount of well being with the minimum amount of consumption”. In the epilogue he emphasizes the need for the “philosophy of materialism” to take second place to ideals such as justice, harmony, beauty, and health.